Here at the 'Mine, we've reported quite a bit about the difficulties young adult PWDs face, as well as some of the great advocates who are working to help inspire them through various campaigns, organizations and even apps.
We were recently excited to learn about yet another new program in Alabama aimed at empowering teens with diabetes. It's the brainchild of a veteran type 1 in Texas, and we think he's a perfect fit for our Amazing Diabetes Advocates series.
Gary Wald, a type 1 for 46 years, is helping to design a physically and mentally challenging outdoor adventure program specifically for teenagers with type 1 diabetes. He was inspired after he participated in an 8-day adventure camp in North Carolina, a journey that helped him gain a deeper understanding of his own diabetes that he now hopes to share with other PWDs. Originally, Gary was looking to kick off this new adventure program about a month ago, but unforeseen delays made him push that launch back to 2014 -- so consider this a preview.
We've heard of similar programs like this before, in the No Limits Diabetes program in Indiana and the Extreme Weekends in Pennsylvania. But Gary's concept is unique in that it's associated with the already-existing Outward Bound network.
Our new intern, Amanda Cedrone, had the chance to talk with Gary about his own story and what he hopes the program will accomplish once it starts next summer.
Going on a half-century with type 1, 66-year-old Gary Wald has always had a simple motto when it comes to his diabetes: "If you don't get your head on straight, it will beat you."
That motto stems in part from the memory of his brother, who died at age 44 due to complications from diabetes. As a result, Gary has always been diligent about maintaining his disease.
Now living in Dallas, TX, the former vice president of marketing for Medtronic Minimed credits his "good control" to his athleticism. He's competed in several long-distance bike races (some to benefit JDRF), played baseball in college, scuba dives, golfs, skis and plays tennis. In keeping with this theme, Gary signed up to participate in an Outward Bound program in North Carolina in the early 1990s.
With locations in several states, the Outward Bound program provides participants with the chance to take part in outdoor leadership activities such as mountaineering, backpacking, rafting, dog-sledding and canoeing. Each excursion is different based on where it takes place, and can last anywhere from four to 81 days. The excursions have a facilitator, or group leader, who travels with the group, providing them with supplies and explaining their daily goals.
When Gary took part in a program through North Carolina Outward Bound, he spent eight days bushwhacking through a forest, navigating obstacle courses in the trees and white water rafting on the Tortuga River.
Every morning, Gary would ask his facilitator if it would be an easy, medium or hard day, and plan his daily insulin and food regimen based on the answer.
"It's the most difficult thing I've ever done," Gary said.
Gary felt invigorated that he was able to complete the program despite his diabetes thanks to planning and preparation. The lessons Gary learned from the experience stuck with him -- lessons and an experience that he feels other diabetics can also benefit from.
After being turned down several years ago, Gary recently had the opportunity to present his idea to create an Outward Bound program for diabetics to new leadership. They loved it.
The Outward Bound School in Fairhope, Alabama will be the first school to offer the program. Staff were hoping to run the program for the first time this past June, but due to some logistical delays they now plan to start in June 2014. The Outward Bound School's executive director is Dr. Lynn Yonge, a general practitioner who realizes that the D-Community needs as much support as it can get, and one of the school's group leaders is Patrick Mertes, an EMT with type 1 who's expected to lead the specialized expedition next summer. (You can see both their biographies here.)
About a mile down the road from the school is Thomas Hospital that has a diabetes education center, and it will help provide support for the Outward Bound program in terms of any medical emergencies that could occur. In addition, staff at the school have developed a relationship with diabetes educators there who they expect to refer patients to the Outward Bound program, Gary said.
The program is meant for teenagers, boys and girls, between the ages of 14 and 16, and will be a less-strenuous variation of what Gary completed years ago. The staff is still discussing exactly what the program for diabetic teens will consist of, but possibilities include trudging through swamps, swimming challenges and canoeing, to name a few. There's also a possibility that each participant will be left to camp out by themselves for one night, or at least part of the night -- something that Gary experienced when he participated in Outward Bound.
In addition to physical activities, the group of teens will have the chance to discuss diabetes with the group, especially from the standpoint of planning and strategy.
"There will be a lot of discussion before they leave (on excursions)," Gary said. "Safety is the number one priority."
Between the discussions and activities each day, the teens will go home with a better understanding of how to care for themselves, Gary said.
"Each situation is an analysis of me, my body, the environment, what I'm doing physically, what food do I have in my system -- trying to get them to understand," Gary said. "So when they go to the movie theater a few years later to see a four-hour double feature, they'll know why they went low."
The program is only meant for those who have a good understanding and grip on their diabetes management. Interested teens will be asked to fill out an application for the program, and will be carefully screened through telephone interviews and questionnaires before they are accepted. When the final group of about 14 participants is chosen, Gary said they can expect a once in a lifetime experience.
"We want people who want to take on a challenge," he said.
While the Outward Bound program for teens with diabetes will be new, the organization itself has been around for a while, and has a good reputation.
Sheri R. Colberg, PhD, who is well-known in the Diabetes Community for her expertise on exercise and diabetes, is familiar with the organization and speaks highly of it.
"Outward Bound is a well-established group that has been around for decades," Sheri said. "I don't see a problem with making an outing specific for teens with type 1 diabetes, assuming that the staff is well-trained and capable of dealing with the intricacies of managing it."
She agreed with Wald, saying she thinks the program will be very effective at teaching teenagers to plan ahead and improve their ability to manage their diabetes.
"Based on the number of athletes I have come across with type 1 diabetes, there is probably a very strong correlation between engaging in taxing physical endeavors and taking control of your diabetes," she said. "You really can't do sports well unless you manage your diabetes equally well."
Tuition for the program is expected to be $1,350.
Interested teenagers can call Katie Cartier at (251) 990-0323, extension 2432. They will be asked to fill out a series of forms and will need permission from their parents and doctor in order to participate.
"I would love Mom and Dad to think this is a step their child can take to help develop that independence and self confidence," Gary said.
Sounds like a great idea, Gary! We're looking forward to seeing how it gets going, and we'd also love to hear from others in the D-Community who may be familiar with this kind of adventure program.